Yesterday I blogged about the wider context behind the USA's seemingly choatic and contradictory policies in the Middle East, which appear to be to create as much chaos as possible by inflaming internal and traditional divisions in the Islamic world in order to weaken its most powerful states, and to manage the transition to new energy systems, which are, I suspect, the big and most significant context by which to interpret recent geopolitical events. A sudden release of new energy technologies, without such a commensurate weakening of those states, would conceivably drive them into precipitate and dangerous actions in order to protect their power if, say, a method were contrived to outflank or replace petroleum. Creating chaos, and keeping those states embroiled in it, allows the transition to a new energy paradigm to be more easily managed, while at the same time creating the conditions for the removal of some truly odious regimes and characters.
In that light, consider this very important article from our friends at phys.org, shared by Mr. K.H., who, in his email to me, qualified it as a "game changer." I concur with him. Read the article, and see if you do too:
The meat of the article is contained in the following paragraphs, and note the connection of the process to planned experiments involving the use of solar power for the reaction's light source:
A team of University of Texas at Arlington chemists and engineers have proven that concentrated light, heat and high pressures can drive the one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water directly into useable liquid hydrocarbon fuels.
This simple and inexpensive new sustainable fuels technology could potentially help limit global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuel. The process also reverts oxygen back into the system as a byproduct of the reaction, with a clear positive environmental impact, researchers said.
"Our process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system," said Frederick MacDonnell, UTA interim chair of chemistry and biochemistry and co-principal investigator of the project.
In an article published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled "Solar photothermochemical alkane reverse combustion," the researchers demonstrate that the one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water into liquid hydrocarbons and oxygen can be achieved in a photothermochemical flow reactor operating at 180 to 200 C and pressures up to 6 atmospheres.
"We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water," said Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the project.
"Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process."
"Our next step is to develop a photo-catalyst better matched to the solar spectrum," MacDonnell said. "Then we could more effectively use the entire spectrum of incident light to work towards the overall goal of a sustainable solar liquid fuel."
The authors envision using parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight on the catalyst bed, providing both heat and photo-excitation for the reaction. Excess heat could even be used to drive related operations for a solar fuels facility, including product separations and water purification.
Granted, this process is a long way from cars with little solar-powered CO2-water hydrocarbon reactors. But it is, like it or not, also the first step on a technology tree toward such things, and as the article notes, it is a simple and rather inexpensive process, though we can all eagerly await the inevitable developments as the powers that be contrive to find a way to make it expensive so they can monopolize it. For now, however, file that "inexpensive part" on the shelf, and watch how this process develops.